February 26, 2024
A BETTER PEACE welcomes author and analyst Ali Wyne to the studio for a conversation about the intricacies of the concept of great power competition as a policy framework. He joins our new Editor-In-Chief, J.P Clark, for a fast-paced discussion of the ideas laid out in his new book "America's Great-Power Opportunity: Revitalizing U.S. Foreign Policy to Meet the Challenges of Strategic Competition." It's a fascinating conversation well timed to the actions of both Russia and China and the responses of U.S. leadership.

A BETTER PEACE welcomes author and analyst Ali Wyne to the studio for a conversation about the intricacies of the concept of great power competition as a policy framework. He joins our new Editor-In-Chief, J.P Clark, for a fast-paced discussion of the ideas laid out in his new book America’s Great-Power Opportunity: Revitalizing U.S. Foreign Policy to Meet the Challenges of Strategic Competition. It’s a fascinating conversation well timed to the actions of both Russia and China and the responses of U.S. leadership.

The essence of strategy is trade-offs.

Ali Wyne is a senior analyst with Eurasia Group’s Global Macro-Geopolitics Practice.  A term member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a David Rockefeller fellow with the Trilateral Commission, and a security fellow with the Truman National Security Project, he is the author of the new book America’s Great-Power Opportunity: Revitalizing U.S. Foreign Policy to Meet the Challenges of Strategic Competition (Polity, 2022).

J.P. Clark is an associate professor of military strategy teaching in the Basic Strategic Art Program. He served in the army for twenty-six years as an armor officer and strategist. He holds a Ph.D. and M.A. in history from Duke University, an M.S.S. from the Army War College, and a B.S. in Russian and German from West Point. He is the author of Preparing for War: The Emergence of the Modern U.S. Army, 1815-1917 (Harvard, 2017). He is currently working on a history of U.S. military strategy in the Pacific from 1898 to 1941 that is under contract with the University Press of Kansas. He is the 3rd Editor-in-Chief of War Room. Follow him on Twitter @JPClark97.

The views expressed in this presentation are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Army War College, U.S. Army, or Department of Defense.

Photo Description: Review of the FY 2022 Department of Defense Budget Request before the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee

Photo Credit: MC1 Carlos M. Vazquez II, U.S. Navy

6 thoughts on “CONFUSION OR CLARITY? GREAT POWER COMPETITION

  1. Consider great power competition today from the following New/Reverse Cold War perspective:

    1. The Old Cold War of yesterday: In the Old Cold War of yesterday, Soviet/communist foreign and domestic policy were focused on transforming the states and societies of the world — to include the states and societies within the Soviet/the communist states themselves — this, so that same might be made to better provide for — and made to better benefit from — such things as political, economic, social and/or value communism.

    Given this such “revolutionary” political objective of the Soviets/the communists back then, this provided the U.S./the West — re: our “containment” strategy — with an AMAZING opportunity to work more “by, with and through” the “natural enemies” of “revolutionary change,” to wit: (a) the more “conservative”/the more “traditional” individuals, groups and states who (b) would lose power, influence and control if these such Soviet/communists “revolutionary changes” were to be enacted.

    2. The New/Reverse Cold War of today: Post-the Old Cold War, U.S./Western foreign and domestic policy came to be focused on transforming the states and societies of the world — to include the states and societies here in the U.S./the West — this, so that same might be made to better provide for — and made to better benefit from — such things as political, economic, social and/or value capitalism, globalization and the global economy.

    Given this such “revolutionary” political objective of the U.S./the West post-the Old Cold War, this provided such nations as China and Russia — re: now their “containment” strategy — with this exact same AMAZING opportunity — to work more “by, with and through” the “natural enemies” of “revolutionary change,” to wit: (a) the more “conservative”/the more “traditional” individuals, groups and states who (b) would lose power, influence and control if these such U.S./Western “revolutionary changes” were to be enacted.

    3. Conclusion: Given this quote from the final paragraph of the Prefix (see Page xiii) of our author’s new book above (go to Amazon to find this):

    ” … There are, however, more compelling and sustainable ways for it (the U.S.) to cultivate its identity, two of which readily come to mind: first, reaffirming the promise of its democratic example; and, second, contributing to an order that can better withstand the stresses of globalization. … ” (Item in parenthesis here is mine.)

    Given this such quoted item, might we say that our author may agree — at least somewhat — with my New/Reverse Cold War suggestion above?

    (And if the Soviets/the communists — in the Old Cold War of yesterday — had done a better job of “contributing to an order that could better withstand the stresses of communism” — might they, likewise, have prevailed ???)

  2. From the New/Reverse Cold War “great power competition” perspective that I provide above, at least one specific question begs to be answered; this being: Who holds the moral high ground in these such wars/competitions?

    In the Old Cold War of yesterday, because the U.S./the West, back then, championed such things as traditional social values, beliefs and institutions (those both in our own countries and, when strategically valuable, those in other countries such as Afghanistan and Poland) — these, versus the “revolutionary change” political objective of the Soviets/the communists back then — the U.S./the West, arguably back then, held the moral high ground in the Old Cold War. The value of holding this such moral high ground becoming evident when considering, for example, (a) what occurred in Afghanistan in the 1980s and (b) what is described below:

    “Without the Pope, no Solidarity. Without Solidarity, no Gorbachev. Without Gorbachev, no fall of Communism. (In fact, Gorbachev himself gave the Kremlin’s long-term enemy this due, ‘It would have been impossible without the Pope.’)” (See the Public Broadcasting System [PBS] “Frontline” article “John Paul II and the Fall of Communism” by Jane Barnes and Hellen Whitney.)

    In the New/Reverse Cold War of today, however, because China and Russia, now, are the one’s champion such things as traditional social values, beliefs and institutions — these, versus the capitalism, globalization and the global economy “revolutionary change” political objectives of the U.S./the West today — now China and Russia, arguably, hold the moral high ground; this, in the New/Reverse Cold War of today. The value of holding this such moral high ground becoming evident, for example, when considering such matters as presented below:

    “Liberal democratic societies have, in the past few decades, undergone a series of revolutionary changes in their social and political life, which are not to the taste of all their citizens. For many of those, who might be called social conservatives, Russia has become a more agreeable society, at least in principle, than those they live in. Communist Westerners used to speak of the Soviet Union as the pioneer society of a brighter future for all. Now, the rightwing nationalists of Europe and North America admire Russia and its leader for cleaving to the past.”

    [See “The American Interest” article “The Reality of Russian Soft Power” by John Lloyd and Daria Litinova.]

    “This may, in fact, be the missing explanatory element. Ideologies regularly define themselves against a perceived ‘other,’ and in this case there was quite plausibly a common and powerful ‘other’ (Western liberalism) that both (Chinese) cultural conservatism and (Chinese) political leftism defined themselves against. This also explains why leftists have, since the 1990s, become considerably more tolerant, even accepting, of cultural conservatism than they were for virtually the entire 20th century. The need to accumulate additional ideological resources to combat a perceived Western liberal ‘other’ is a powerful one, and it seems perfectly possible that this could have overridden whatever historical antagonism, or even substantive disagreement, existed between the two positions.” (Items in parenthesis above are mine.)

    (See the April 24, 2015 Foreign Policy article “What it Means to Be ‘Liberal’ or ‘Conservative’ in China: Putting the Country’s Most Significant Political Divide in Context” by Taisu Zhang.)

    Conclusion:

    For those entities pursuing a “containment” strategy — against an opponent who is pursuing “revolutionary change” political objectives — there is IMMENSE VALUE in (1) gaining the “moral high ground” by (2) championing (and indeed “weaponizing”?) long-held religious and/or philosophical social values, beliefs and institutions (those of one’s own country and, when strategically valuable, those of other countries, and one’s opponent’s countries, also).

    Question:

    Given how knowledgeable the U.S./the West was — re: the “containment” strategy and tactics that I describe above — how is it that the U.S./the West — in the New/Reverse Cold War of today — make the exact same fundamental mistakes that the Soviets/the communists did — in the Old Cold War of yesterday?

    (In this regard, note how the interviewee in this podcast — Ali Wyne — in the excerpt from the Preface of his recent book that I point to at the end of my first comment above — suggests that now [much too late?] the U.S./the West should begin contributing to an order that can better withstand the stresses of the U.S./the West’s globalization political objective.)

  3. 1. The essence of strategy is to put your opponent on the horns of a dilemma. Having done so, they can never rest secure. We yield the initiative when we develop a strategy focused on our own capabilities. Can anyone argue that we haven’t been responding to Chinese policies since 1972?

    2. I was surprised I didn’t hear the word “multi-polar”. I believe it is the most commonly used description of the current state of our geopolitics. Great Power Competition smacks of the runup to 1914 along with all its mistakes.

    3. In this context, Great Power Competition also encompasses our relationships with our allies. No longer in the shadow of a common foe, until very recently Europe was a committed ally in word only. India has shown its stripes. Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Australia went from the shadow of the Soviets to that of the CCP and have therefore remained close to the US. Germany, which tied its economy to Russia and China, is in a quandary and has embarrassed itself by promising much and delivering little. Our future relationships with each of these are far from certain.

  4. Let us look at competition today (great power and/or other) from a perspective somewhat different from the New/Reverse Cold War perspective that I offer in my earlier comments above.

    In this new (actually old — goes all the way back to the dawn of modern capitalism in the eighteenth century?) perspective, competition (great power and/or other?) looked/looks something like this:

    “In this new world disorder, the power of identity politics can no longer be denied. Western elites believed that in the twenty-first century, cosmopolitanism and globalism would triumph over atavism and tribal loyalties. They failed to understand the deep roots of identity politics in the human psyche and the necessity for those roots to find political expression in both foreign and domestic policy arenas. And they failed to understand that the very forces of economic and social development that cosmopolitanism and globalization fostered would generate turbulence and eventually resistance, as ‘Gemeinschaft’ (community) fought back against the onrushing ‘Gesellschaft’ (market society), in the classic terms sociologists favored a century ago.”

    (See the Mar-Apr 2017 edition of “Foreign Affairs” and, therein, the article by Walter Russell Mead entitled “The Jacksonian Revolt: American Populism and the Liberal Order.”)

    From this such “community versus market society” perspective (which one might suggest goes all the way back to the dawn of modern capitalism in the eighteenth century?), might we say that the nation that can, somehow, find a way to provide for (some/most?) of the wants, needs and desires of traditional “community,” while simultaneously providing for (some/most?) of the wants, needs and desires of modern “market society,” will (a) win “the struggle among state and non-state actors for legitimacy and influence over relevant populations” (a definition of irregular warfare) and, thereby, (b) win the competition with its rivals and competitors?

    In this regard, who might we say is doing a better job of the “balancing act” that I describe above: China, Russia, India, the U.S., Europe (etc., etc., etc.)?

    (Note: The problem with my such thoughts and questions above, this would seem to be that history suggests that only the nations that can, ultimately, [a] defeat their traditional “communities” and thus [b] render modern “market society” supreme will [c] generally prevail over other nations?)

  5. Our interviewee, Ali Wyne, seems to see the U.S.’s 2017 adoption of the concept of “great power competition” as being reactive in nature. But what is it, exactly, that the U.S. is reacting to?

    Might the answer here be — as per my New/Reverse Cold War suggestions above — (a) the embrace by China and Russia (et. al) of “containment” strategies — and (b) the related effort to work more “by, with and through” the more no-change/the more conservative elements of the states and societies of the world?

    From that such perspective, is not the U.S. forced to “react” — to this such containment “reaction” by China and Russia (et. al)? This, either by:

    a. Abandoning our post-Old Cold War “achieve revolutionary change both here at home and there abroad” (in the name of such things as capitalism, globalization and the global economy) political objective?

    b. Scaling back same. Or by:

    c.. Pursuing this such post-Old Cold War political objective more intelligently, for example, in the manner described by LTG (ret.) Cleveland and GEN (ret.) Votel below? (Herein, note the apparent working more “by, with and through” the more pro-change/the more-liberal elements of the states and societies of the world.):

    LTG (ret.) Cleveland:

    “The Achilles’ heel of our authoritarian adversaries is their inherent fear of their own people; the United States must capitalize on this fear. … An American way of irregular war will reflect who we are as a people, our diversity, our moral code, our undying belief in freedom and liberty. It must be both defensive and offensive. Developing it will take time, require support from the American people through their Congress, and is guaranteed to disrupt the status quo and draw criticism. It will take leadership, dedication, and courage. It is my hope that this study encourages, informs, and animates those with responsibility to protect the nation to act. Our adversaries have moved to dominate in the space below the threshold of war. It will be a strategy built around an American way of irregular war that defeats them.”

    (See the Rand paper “The American Way of Irregular War: An Analytical Memoir; therein, see the “Conclusion” of the “Summary” Chapter, at Page xxiii.)

    GEN Votel (et. al):

    “Advocates of UW first recognize that, among a population of self-determination seekers, human interest in liberty trumps loyalty to a self-serving dictatorship, that those who aspire to freedom can succeed in deposing corrupt or authoritarian rulers, and that unfortunate population groups can and often do seek alternatives to a life of fear, oppression, and injustice. Second, advocates believe that there is a valid role for the U.S. Government in encouraging and empowering these freedom seekers when doing so helps to secure U.S. national security interests.”

    (See the National Defense University Press paper “Unconventional Warfare in the Gray Zone” by authors Joseph L. Votel, Charles T. Cleveland, Charles T. Connett, and Will Irwin; therein, see the major section entitled “Doctrine.”)

    Bottom Line Thought — Based on the Above:

    When someone places a “containment” strategy before you — as the U.S./the West did in relation to the threat posed by the Soviets/the communists in the Old Cold War — and as Russia, China, et. al, have done in relation to the threat posed by the U.S./the West in the New/Reverse Cold War of today — SOME KIND of “reaction” is required. Yes?

  6. Ali Wyne’s discussion here asks a critical question — one that seems to go something like this:

    “Without invoking our competitors, what is it that the U.S. seeks to accomplish in the world?”

    Believe it or not, we may be able to answer that question fairly easily; this, by simply going back to the time just after the end of the Old Cold War — a time when the U.S. had no great power competitors to worry about:

    “Throughout the Cold War, we contained a global threat to market democracies; now we should seek to enlarge their reach, particularly in places of special significance to us. The successor to a doctrine of containment must be a strategy of enlargement — enlargement of the world’s free community of market democracies. During the Cold War, even children understood America’s security mission; as they looked at those maps on their schoolroom walls, they knew we were trying to contain the creeping expansion of that big, red blob. Today, at great risk of oversimplification, we might visualize our security mission as promoting the enlargement of the ‘blue areas’ of market democracies. The difference, of course, is that we do not seek to expand the reach of our institutions by force, subversion or repression.”

    (See then-National Security Advisor Anthony Lake’s 1993 document “From Containment to Enlargement” — which is a precursor/an introduction to what would become President Bill Clinton’s “Engagement and Enlargement” National Security Strategy.)

    The problem now, of course, with returning to this such “Engagement and Enlargement” NSS, this is that now — unlike in 1993 — great powers such as China and Russia have (a) come to the fore and (b) embraced “containment” strategies of their own; these, designed to prevent the U.S. from being able to achieve our “engagement and enlargement” objectives.

    This suggesting that (a) simply re-embracing “Engagement and Enlargement;” this, (b) ignores the changed circumstances/the changed conflict environment noted above?

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